What Flies for the State Fails EPA

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. (RIRRC), which owns and operates the Central Landfill, Johnston, R.I., is handling the first enforcement action against a landfill for violating New Source Review under the Clean Air Act.

The violations are the result of an investigation the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), Washington, D.C., started in July 1999 based on odor complaints from neighbors. RIRRC has paid a $321,000 penalty and is expected to install $5 million of pollution-control upgrades as part of the settlement.

Although transgressions did occur at the landfill — record keeping and monitoring issues, for instance — RIRRC maintains it was torn between state and federal rules.

“We constructed some cells after 1992 that were compliant with state air licensing,” says Claude Cote, RIRRC director of regulatory compliance, “but state regulations are federally enforceable. The EPA interpretation says not only do flares need an air permit, but the landfill itself — a mass of rotting garbage — also needs an air permit. We were caught between two regulators.”

Cote says since the investigation began in 1999, Central Landfill officials have spent approximately $3 million on upgrades, including horizontal fences and 50 to 60 gas collection wells.

The estimated $5 million in improvements is supposed to enhance gas collection under a work schedule more rigorous than state guidelines require. The EPA settlement divides the landfill into four phases. Phase I, which opened in 1955 under different ownership and closed in 1993, is being cleaned up as a Superfund site. The settlement requires the landfill to install a 6,000 cubic-feet-per-minute ultra low emissions flare and 14 horizontal landfill gas collection trenches. The landfills also is required to cover and cap materials on Phases II and III to trap escaping landfill gas. The EPA expects this will help to capture and control approximately 30,350 tons of methane and 215 tons of volatile organic compounds by the year 2010.

Nine states have sued the Bush administration over Clean Air Act and NSR changes that were made official on Dec. 31, 2002.